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Why do Lingerie Retailers… Carry Some Brands and Not Others?

Freya Lingerie via Butterfly Collection

Our next installment in the “Why Do Lingerie Retailers…?” series is from Claire of full-busted, online only lingerie boutique Butterfly Collection. Claire was one of my 5 Lingerie Bloggers to Watch in 2012, and I am super excited that she’s here sharing her expertise as a retailer with us.

One of the questions I get asked a lot on Twitter is “Why doesn’t [insert name of boutique here] carry [insert name of favorite lingerie brand here]?” As I don’t have a retail background, I don’t know the answer to that question, but hopefully today’s column will help clear it up for all of us. Here are the five things that dictate a lingerie boutique’s brand selection:

From Claire:
I think most retailers would love to have almost every brand in their store because it’s so beautiful! There are a few factors that dictate which brands a store carries:

Cost – This doesn’t just mean how much a store has available to spend on inventory, but also how much their customers are likely to spend. A store in New York’s Upper East Side is likely to have a higher priced inventory than a mall boutique in suburban Ohio. About 75% of a store’s inventory will be around the same price point (the average amount your particular customer spends) with the remaining 25% making up the discount and high end stock.

Weather – Where your customers live can make a big difference to their bra preferences, which affects the brands you carry. Stores in areas of North America that have lots of cold months sell more basic coloured lingerie than boutiques in warmer places. Some brands have lots of basic options, while others have none, so you buy accordingly.

Fashion – If your store is located in a trendy neighbourhood or you market to a fashion-forward audience, you need to stock the latest styles. If the majority of your customers are more concerned with comfort and not fashion (not that these two can’t co-exist) then you probably don’t stock the latest sheer-cup, leather-trimmed, French plunge bra!

Weight – There are some postal codes in North America where the average weight is higher than others. This can have a big effect on your stock. Many brands specialize in plus size lingerie and if your average customer’s band size is a 42 then you need to have several plus size options available.

Cup Sizes – This is the big deciding factor for us because we only sell Full Bust bras (D-K). Not all brands make bras in these sizes (and I don’t think they all should, D-K requires particular design skills, as do plus size and petite bras). If a brand only goes to an F or G cup we’re less likely to carry it than a brand that goes all the way to K. Buying more stock from fewer brands keeps your shipping costs down too.

Thanks so much for the insight, Claire! Readers, what do you think about the reasons above?

Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

6 Comments on this post

  1. Some amazing feedback here, thanks everyone! Erica is so right that some bras fit more women so that has a big effect on your stock choices too. Of course there are about another 100 things that affect your purchasing decisions but these were some of the big ones.

    June – there are some brands where the cut of their bras are good for more women than other brands. But usually you get styles within a brand that fit more women so those form your core stock.

    Scarlet – Because we’re online only we have to cater to women across Canada. However, I think because we specialize in D-K only it keeps our purchasing focused. Knowing your objectives and strengths helps to shape your buying.

    Vicki – Department stores are looking for the fastest turnover stock so they tend to carry a lot of styles in a few sizes. It’s so frustrating because there are HEAPS of bras available in your size and it shouldn’t be so hard for you to find options. That’s a big part of why I started my company because I got fed up of being a specialty size – I wanted choice over a D cup.

    Anastasia – I agree wholeheartedly! xx

  2. Vicki says:

    I agree with the above . I live in Wyoming and I have a band and cup size thats not as readily available even in upscale department stores because of A) That size doesn’t exist or B) They don’t carry a bandsize so small except in A or B cup. There is a Macy’s in Casper Wy, they carry 30band and 32 band up to 3 D’s
    My bra size is a 32DDD so most lingerie or bra dept even in South Dakota start at 34/36 and a c,d,dd
    Montana is better Billings has a Dillards and their stock is far better and Denver Co also

    ‘Weight – There are some postal codes in North America where the average weight is higher than others. This can have a big effect on your stock. Many brands specialize in plus size lingerie and if your average customer’s band size is a 42 then you need to have several plus size options available.’

  3. June says:

    Very interesting! I never thought about weather and distance from “trendy” areas but that makes complete sense. I guess that’s why here in Brazil there’s such an insane emphasis on pretty bras to the point that it makes finding practical ones difficult (well, impossible for me..)!.

    So I’m curious, what brands are easier fits for the general population than others? Does the variety in the bra types play a factor too (like one brand that only carries bras whereas another carries basques, swimwear, strapless bras etc)? Also, I suppose the age of the most common clientèle plays a role too?

  4. That’s interesting that so much consideration is given to the physical location of the store. Makes me wonder how bra stores that sells online (even if not exclusively), like Claire’s & Erica’s stores, decide who & where their customers are. Does customer’s location come into play for online stores?

  5. What a great article! Claire perfectly outlined why many retailers, especially small boutiques, cannot always carry lots of brands. Another factor for us is fit. We are primarily a “fitting” store in that we sell bras almost exclusively, and our goal is to get women into the right size. Most of our customers are coming to us because they have never been properly fitted and have numerous bra problems. Certain lingerie brands, while beautiful and well-made, simply do not fit a large portion of women (even if they are in the brand’s size range). One of our brands in particular either fits a woman perfectly or not at all, so it can be very difficult to sell it. It’s easier to work with styles and brands that you know fit a nice percentage of your customers than to carry other lines, which may or may not work for them. The shipping factor is another great point. It’s easier for me to carry lots of Eveden products, for example, because I can replenish four brands (they have six but we only carry four) at the same time without missing a minimum order point.

  6. Anastasia says:

    As a lingerie boutique owner, I think Claire hit the nail on the head with this post. Customer’s preference and tastes in lingerie are so varied, it’s almost impossible to please everyone – though that it surely the goal. Talking to the customer is essential (and fun!), but when in doubt we order what we would wear. xx!

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